Saturday, January 31, 2009

Summer Concert Festival... in January

Went to my first concert in South Africa today - The Campus Invasion Tour at Emmarentia Dam. It was a full-on summer concert - frisbees, vendors, beach blankets, picnics, contraband glass bottles, (relatively) overpriced drinks, bikinis / shirtless dudes, flip flops, etc. The main act was Goldfish, and the other act that had been pointed out to me beforehand was HHP - both were a lot of fun.

I hate coming back to the prices, but it's hard to ignore. I say 'relatively' because it was insanely cheap compared to anythign you'd find in the US / UK / Europe / etc. Imagine - how many freshly-muddled mojitos would you buy if they cost $3 each? The answer, as in the last post about beer, is as many as you can carry. I had a little help carrying them back to our picnic blanketed area, so I bought 9 (not just for me, I swear...). Oh and the cost to get into the concert itself... $7. Okay seriously nothing more about the exchange rate for a little while on this blog. For a little while at least...

Friday, January 30, 2009

How To Find A Club - Follow the Crazy Hair

After going to dinner with a bunch of people I work with, we decided to try and find a bar / club to go out to for a few drinks. There was a table of 12 or so people at another table at the restaurant, and a few with fairly bizarre hair - one girl with rainbow colored hair, one guy with liberty spikes, and a few others in what I thought were costumes but really couldn't be safe in that assumption. Obviously they were headed somewhere awesome.

We walked around for a little while near the restaurant, and then saw that group headed down a side street into an unmarked club - clearly we had to follow them. It ended up being pretty great - not too crowded, solid DJ, dancing, etc. Lots of American music up front, and some things I definitely didn't expect to hear here - Justice, Postal Service, Kool & The Gang, and a few other things that could pop up on random on my iPod any time.

As is the case everywhere else in Jo'burg, drinks were insanely cheap. A mixed drink will set you back around $3, and beers are at most $1.50. So, the question isn't really "How many beers should I buy?" but rather, "How many beers can I carry?" The answer: several.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

(Un)Safety Stats

A lot of people warned me about the dangers of South Africa - lock your doors, don't ask strangers for directions, etc. But, being the 21st century man that I am (distrusting of people, trusting of the internet), I wasn't really scared until I checked out the stats online.

#1 in Assaults per Capita
#2 in Murders per Capita
#1 in Firearm Murders per Capita
#1 in Rapes per Capita
#2 in Kidnappings

Where I live and work are pretty safe though - I've heard it's where a lot of political leaders live, so they make sure for their own sake that it's reasonably safe. I'm still not really taking any chances.

Also, here is a sign posted on the door at my client's office...

How many of you have that guarantee at your office, hmmm??

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Home Sweet Home Pt II: My Place

I live on the 1st floor of The Splice, which of course is really the 2nd floor (the one above the ground floor). I live in a 3 bedroom apartment (which is really 2 bedrooms and an office) with Raphael, a second-year Monitor consultant from the Sao Paolo office. Apparently it's one of the bigger units in the building, mainly because of the massive living room and balcony. Since the Splice is a hotel, we get daily maid service (including dishes!), so I can't take credit for the cleanliness of it. There is also a laundry / dry cleaning service, but that costs extra... which I can expense. We get satellite TV with a mix of British and African stations. The best thing I've found on it is probably the BBC Lifestyle channel - British cooking shows are much more complex in what they make - more Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal than Rachael Ray and Paula Deen (not that I have anything against the latter two - but I don't really feel compelled to take notes while watching Paula prepare deep fried chocolate covered deep fried pound cake). There's also soccer on at least 4 channels at any given time. The place came fully furnished, including decorations on the walls and all. Life is pretty good here!

The living room (the balcony is on the other side of those sliding glass doors)

The kitchen

My bedroom

More of my bedroom

My bathroom

More of my bathroom

The office

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh lorrrd, wontcha buy me a Mercedes Benz

Joburg is more or less impossible to get around without a car, especially for the purposes of A) consulting and B) not getting assaulted. So, all of the expats who come in to work at Monitor are given a car. I was both excited and somewhat terrified by this - I love driving, but wasn't so sure about my ability to do so on the left-hand side of the road. I also anticipated getting the typical car down here - a Yaris or Jazz or something else that would fit in the back of my Dad's Suburban back home. Since I'd only driven stick once (I know, I know...), I requested an automatic car down here. Turns out they only had one left...

Not too shabby. A Mercedes C180 Kompressor. They said that as soon as they have a lesser car, they would come out and downgrade me. But, they have to catch me first.

Driving on the left isn't as scary as I thought it would be. It's the turning that gets me. Left turns are easy, right turns are hard - takes some getting used to. Also, the roads are okay for the most part, but turn lanes aren't marked, lanes disappear and reappear without warning, and the drivers here aren't the most skilled or patient that I've encountered. But, really, drivers of Johannesburg - honk all you want, I'm doing the best I can!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lunch at The Cradle (of Humankind)

I went to lunch on Sunday with some friends from work to a place called The Cradle, which is on a terrace overlooking a valley in the Cradle of Humankind. It's a 500 sq km area about 45 minutes from Jo'burg where they've found tons of fossils of humans and human ancestors and is regularly crawling with paleontologists. Not the cool kind though.

The restaurant was great - we took 3 hours to eat lunch, overlooking the valleys on a rather pleasant summer day. Johannesburg is on a plateau and is at a decent elevation, so it's not the sweltering 90+ degrees you would associate with an African summer. It's normally around 75-80 during the day - basically LA weather. There is the occasional torrential thunderstorm, but they don't last very long.

The Cradle of Humankind is also a nature preserve, so we were hopeful of seeing some kind of animals, but the only ones we saw were on our plates. I had a venison carpaccio to start, which was probably not from the standard Bambi-style deer. For an entree I had a kudu loin, adventurously cooked medium rare, which was great.

Also, it stands to mention that we really tried hard to spend a lot of money here. We all had appetizers, entrees, dessert, coffee, water / soda, and wine, and took 3 hours to do it all - and the bill came to... $30 / person. For all the financial pains I had as an American in the UK and Europe over the past few years, I'm a big fan of exchange rates right now.

The view to the right of where I sat

The restaurant

Our table

Flowery bush thing next to our table

View from the parking lot

More of the view from the parking lot

Yet more of the view from the parking lot

Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Night Out in Jo'burg

Having made it through my first work week in Jo'burg, it was time to go out. A group of people from work, some expats and some locals, thankfully led by the locals, was headed to a club called Crazy 88. I was warned ahead of time that it would be "filled with black people... with LOUD black people music." I was pumped.

I headed over after dinner with 4 other white folks. As we pulled up to the front, we saw someone literally scream and jump on someone's car rather menacingly. He might have been joking around, but it was enough to spook us. I really didn't want to get jumped on my first night out. So, we headed back to the apartment and a couple people went home. I ended up going back out, but this time with a handful of locals and Brazilians - much more credible.

The place ended up being a lot of fun - crowded, but manageable. It did live up to the 'warning' I was given, which was great. The music was pretty typical hip-hop you'd hear in a club anywhere, with a few exceptions. It was definitely cool to hear Dead Prez in a club in South Africa, though I felt a little weird singing along with parts of Hip-Hop.

There was a little bit of violence inside - two girls got into a fight... and then another... and then another. In the second round, one took off a high-heeled shoe and attempted to use that as a weapon. It seemed more Jerry Springer than COPS, so I wasn't too worried. The third time though, one of them broke a bottle over a table and brandished it but didn't manage to do any stabbing. Each time they fought, the (1) bouncer stepped in and broke things up, and the girls were restrained by their respective gentlemen. We avoided the two of them the rest of the night.

It was a little alarming, but really, I've been seeing that kind of thing since high school. Well, without the broken beer bottles. I mean, really, I've seen worse girl fights at lunch there - hair extensions and bits of fake nails on the ground, scratch marks from said fake nails, security guard intervention, etc etc. So, yet one more situation I can thank Blair High School for preparing me for!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Home Sweet Home Pt I: The Splice

My apartment building here is half-hotel, half-apartment - basically an extended stay hotel that Monitor rents out part of. It's called the Splice and is one of the more interesting places I've ever lived. It's basically a cross between Fhloston Paradise from The Fifth Element and the motel from National Lampoon's Vacation.

Here's the picture from the website - I'd take my own exterior picture but you're not really supposed to go outside and walk around with a huge camera

The lobby

The inside - I use the walkway through the water every day, even though it's just as easy and maybe quicker not to

More of the inside

More inside

The pool - check out the two 'lounge chairs' covered in grass

More pool, but in this pic you can see the cafe/bar on the left of it

The view from the top (6th) floor - that's the gym at the end there

Friday, January 23, 2009

Racism is okay!

Political correctness is a little different down in South Africa. This is the only country on earth where you're allowed to say things like 'colored' and 'darkie'. I guess it's not entirely surprising, considering that 1994 was not that long ago. Anybody here old enough to drive was born under Apartheid. Consider the pace of race relations in the US - the civil war ended in 1865, but Jim Crow didn't end until a hundred years later, Chinese weren't legally allowed to become citizens until 1943, the president and the supreme court upheld Japanese American internment in 1944 - there wasn't even a black man in the NBA until 1950. So, let's give South Africa a few generation before we start judging them. After all - and hey, they had a black president 15 years before we did.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things Will Never Be The Same... Oh yeahhhh...

Heard an interesting song on the radio on the way to work today... Obama's inauguration speech followed by reactions from world leaders (mostly African ones), all laid over Tupac's 'Changes'. This even beats the Caribbean dance song about Obama I heard in the Netherlands over break. Here's the closest thing to it I could find online...

It's amazing seeing the international reaction to the inauguration. On CNN international they had coverage of inauguration parties from around the world - not just a bunch of expats huddled around a static-y TV, either. Huge loud galas with movie screens that rendered the crowd silent when Obama spoke. I haven't seen this kind of pro-American sentiment since, oh I don't know, September 12, 2001.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stand-up Stand-up

One quick way to dig into the pop culture of an area is to find out what they think is funny. I went a stand-up comedy night at a place called The Blues Room. Of course, the walls are decorated with posters of old blues and jazz icons - so, yes, you can find a poster of Giant Steps or Kind of Blue anywhere in the world.

The comedy itself was okay, but I don't think I got half the jokes. There were stereotypes about Zimbabwe and Ethiopia as well as other South African cities like Durban, and the comedians mercilessly heckled the group from Australia and their one friend from Canada. Yes - everyone in the world makes fun of Canadians. There were also jokes about African languages like Afrikaans and Zulu, which totally lost me. But, they also lost most of the crowd. Looking for joke fodder, the comedians would often ask if anyone was from outside of South Africa. It turned out there were people from Croatia, Shanghai, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Canada (unfortunately), and that was just the 3 or 4 tables closest to the stage.

Of course, the best part of seeing stand-up comedy outside of the US is their impressions of people from the US. This place was no exception. One comedian talked about his trip to Miami and New York, and described telling an American where he was from. The reaction was something along the lines of, "OMG!! Like, AFRICA Africa?!?" He then went on to talk about how much Africans resent the American image of Africa, which he said if mainly due to Unicef ads and the ubiquitous fly on the lip of the starving child. Turns out most children down here don't have that fly...

All three acts (plus the MC) mentioned the Obama inauguration in the first few minutes of their routines. The best joke was "He's America's first black president... that's SO 1994."

Monday, January 19, 2009


Made it in safely... head spinning, camera LCD broken, going from airport to apartment to shower to the office. Then after 30+ hours, I finally got to stop moving! Pictures and impressions to follow once all that's sorted out...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Second 5,000 Miles

I got into Zurich around 11 AM, and wasn't leaving til 11 PM - on the last flight out of the airport. I spent most of the time in the Swiss Air Business lounge, which is not a bad way to kill time.

I took a shower there and then went to a dayroom, which is basically a little hotel room you can nap in during layovers. GREAT. IDEA.

Overall, the Zurich airport was very... design-y. As opposed to the compulsory, prison-like furniture you see in American airports, everything here was all lines and curves and materials and whatnot. Not unrelated, everything was also really expens

Saturday, January 17, 2009

First 5,000 Miles

Left Chicago on a relatively balmy winter day (my birthday) - I think it got up to 20 degrees. Seeing as how it got down to -13 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill around -30 a few days prior, it wasn't so bad. Not to mention the foot or so of snow on the ground. The Chicago Winter did not let me get away without a fight.

I managed to cram all of my stuff into 2 suitcases, a messenger bag, and a briefcase. I figure I forgot a bag or so of stuff. We'll see...

My itinerary - 2 overnight flights with a 12-hour layover in Zurich in the middle. Before you feel bad for me though, you should know that I'm flying business class... so here's my seat...

... and as soon as I sat down, here's what they gave me... 2 mimosas and 3 canapes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"We have a new need in South Africa..."

I got an email from HR one night saying that there was a new resource need in South Africa... in 10 days.

For those who don't know exactly what I do, I working as a strategy consultant for the Monitor Group, where I've been since 2006. I'll be working with a government entity in Johannesburg to help the country restructure their electricity distribution, essentially going from 187 power companies down to 6, essentially in order to help put an end to electrical shortages and rolling blackouts. So, I'm going down to help turn on the lights. It has a huge impact on quality of life - hospitals, schools, productivity, refrigeration, home appliances, connectivity, etc. I'll be spending most of my time working in my company's office down here and I'll be staying in a corporate apartment. They're also giving me a car to use and a cell phone. Good stuff.

So, for the next 10 weeks, I'll be in one convenient location... in Africa.